About the Guest:

Anwar A. Jebran, MD

Co-Founder of Arabic Media Company

Anwar Jebran is an internal medicine physician who believes technology is the solution for the healthcare industry. He is an immigrant who was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Anwar finished an Internal Medicine Residency at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL.

He won the 2019 American College of Physicians – MIT National Hackathon to improve inpatient workflow.

Anwar founded a media platform for Arab Americans in North America to connect with their cities (Arabic Media Company LLC, Arabicmediacompany.com). He is currently a clinical informatics fellow at UIC and a member at the ACP Northern Illinois Chapter Governor’s counsel, a speaker, and an entrepreneur.

Connect with Dr. Anwar A. Jebran:

About the Episode:

In this episode of Entrepreneur Rx, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Anwar Jebran, a clinical informatics fellow at the University of Illinois in Chicago, entrepreneur, and internal medicine physician.

During this episode, Anwar shares how he started in medicine and entrepreneurship back in his home country of Syria, his journey to the United States, and the differences between the American medical school system and the Syrian medical school system.

Entrepreneur Rx Episode 20:

RX Podcast_Anwar Jebran: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

RX Podcast_Anwar Jebran: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

John Shufeldt: Hello everybody and welcome to another edition of Entrepreneur Rx, where we help health care professionals own their future.

John Shufeldt: Hello, everybody, and welcome to another edition of Entrepreneur Rx this week, I'm very happy to welcome Dr. Anwar Jebran, who co-founded a media platform for Arab Americans in North America to connect with their cities, called ArabMediaCompany.com, as well as a Health Care Hero podcast. Anwar, welcome to the podcast. I'm really excited to chat with you.

Awran Jebran: Thank you so much, John, for having me.

John Shufeldt: It's a pleasure. You've got a really cool background. Let's talk about it. Ok, so before we start our conversation, where did you, where are you from? Where'd you grow up?

Awran Jebran: So I'm originally from Syria, Damascus. I was born in Damascus, Syria. I grew up there. Beautiful country, beautiful city. Damascus is probably the oldest inhabited city in the world. And of course, we all know what happened later with the Civil War, finished my medical school there and then immigrated to the United States, to Chicago.

John Shufeldt: Wow, what year did you immigrate?

Awran Jebran: I came in 2014.

John Shufeldt: In 2014. Ok, so did you go to the medical school in Damascus and then did you go right into residency in Chicago?

Awran Jebran: Yeah, came to Chicago. My uncle is a cardiologist at Christ Hospital and I learned that you did your residency there and so came to Chicago, did a couple of years research at Rush Hospital and the GI clinic, then started my residency and finished it last year at Twice Memorial hospital.

John Shufeldt: Wow, you just finished your residency last year? So you're the last year of your residency was you were in COVID hell?

Awran Jebran: Oh my god. Yeah, I mean, my third year was was interesting, to say the least.

John Shufeldt: Yeah, I bet it was like, yeah, critical care. And then some. So what was the medical school? Like now, looking back, so now you know what Americanized medicine is in a sense, at least the training. How does it compare to medical school in Damascus?

Awran Jebran: So, you know, the educational system and back in Damascus, it's really influenced by the French system. So we don't have the credit system that you do. Like a minor and a major, you start your medical school right after high school. You go through a set of courses, predetermined courses every year and then you graduate. So it's a six year program after high school versus do pre-med and then med school and all these stages, which, you know, I mean, every system has its negative and positive stuff. For back home, the positive stuff to me was like, you go straight into medical school, you, time-wise, you finish medical school and you graduate within six versus eight years here in the United States. But you know, here they give you more flexibility, in the United States, like if you want to do some minor, you want to explore some more interest regarding, you know, the clinical rotations back home. I mean, as some people know, Syria is a developing country. So we didn't have this advanced EMRs or we were paper-based, so we learned as much as we could. But you see a lot of interesting cases, interesting pathologies in the hospital, and the last couple of years, the Civil War started in 2011. So, you know, the last few years before graduation were pretty interesting.

John Shufeldt: Wow. So you did your last three years during the Civil War, that had to be just unbelievable and sad at the same time.

Awran Jebran: I know, I know. Yeah, I mean, the last few tests we took was like a battle a few hundred meters away from us. So it's pretty intense to and pretty difficult to concentrate during the test.

John Shufeldt: Well, I will never complain ever again about taking a test after hearing that. You win the bad test experience. All right. So you get here and you win the American College of Physicians MIT National Hackathon, which puts you in my mind and like the Mark Zuckerberg sort of world, what does that mean?

Awran Jebran: You know, I, moving to the United States and especially Chicago, I fell in love with the entrepreneurship culture here, right? I mean, the past decade or two, you see everybody in multiple industries trying to do their own business, trying to solve like a problem they're facing. It's whether in finance, in retail, online, and of course, that led to health care. And during my residency, I've been noticing all these issues and you know, better than anybody, you know, the inefficiencies and the issues in the health care industry that we have. So I was part of the American College of Physicians and they had this collaboration with MIT Hack in Medicine. So they had this collaboration, they wanted to introduce this entrepreneurship culture into the residency and into the physician's world. The MIT Hack in Medicine started in 2013 by MIT. They want to push innovators, physicians, and everybody to collaborate to come up with solutions. And probably one of the end product of the MIT Hack in Medicine was PillPack, which was bought by Amazon like early 2014. So when there that was my first experience with the tech slash health care, I participated in a weekend hackathon, worked with the, with a bunch of great individuals, IT people, business people and nurses, other administration people, and the theme was working on workflow issues in the hospital. So we came up with the software idea to improve the workflow, make it more efficient and the end goal was to decrease the length of stay. So our idea was the number one national, that was the first amazing experience that was really exciting.

John Shufeldt: That's actually really cool now. So you've done that now, but you also did, you have three years of research in the GI lab?

Awran Jebran: Yes. Yes. At Rush Hospital in the GI lab and the outpatient setting that we worked on multiple research projects and one really interesting one, which is a product that was on Shark Tank, which is Squatty Potty, if you're familiar with it and we worked on to improve the functional constipation in elderly using that device. And the research was over a couple of years, and we published these results into the ACG Conference that year.

John Shufeldt: Wow, I mean, while you're doing that, did you study, study and take all the step one, two and three. Is that...

Awran Jebran: Exactly, exactly. You know, as a foreign grad, you finished your medical school, but these boards exam are not embedded into the years that you do in the medical school. So plus I took my medical school in Arabic, so I had to do all this transformation into English. So I spent a year and a half taking the step one, step two and this years.

John Shufeldt: Wow. Yeah. Well, I can imagine now going back and thinking, OK, I'm going to learn all this stuff in Arabic and try to figure it out. So that's impressive. Now when did you learn you wanted to be an entrepreneur or was that when you came to Chicago and kind of saw this culture? Or was it even while you're back in Syria?

Awran Jebran: While I was back, actually, to me back home, it was a second nature. Back home, we don't have big corporations. We don't have this like corporate America culture, everybody starts their own small business and they live and work like that. So to me, I was in medical school, I used to finish my clinical rotations and then go back and help my dad with his business. My dad is a businessman. He started his own business in the air conditioning and but on the side, he used to always do some side businesses, and one of them was this single-use the cups we use at Starbucks, you know, for the coffee cups and stuff like that. So I used to take samples of these products go from cafe to cafe after my clinical rotation and then try to sell these products, you know, to me, used to get so excited, you know, closing transactions and all these kind of stuff. And they came here to the U.S. and I looked, Oh my God, it's on a way, a bigger scale. So here, like everything you see going through residency or going through stuff outside residency with my friends here noticing these problems or issues and coming up like, hey, let's do this, let's do that. Let's work on this issue. One of the stuff was me and my friend Malik. We noticed that there's no high-quality media in Chicago, so we started Chicago in Arabic, which is a media platform and then that grew into Arabic media company that we do content about each city. So we're currently in Chicago and New York, L.A. So that's one of the stuff that gets me excited in addition to practicing medicine.

John Shufeldt: So it's in Arabic station, but it's about Chicago or about New York or about.

Awran Jebran: Yes. Yes. So so the goal is to talk about the city in Arabic, right because we notice in North America there is around 4.5 or five million Arab-Americans and there is no high-quality outlet or platform to talk about North America and the U.S. in Arabic. Yeah, there's a high need and other communities like the Latino community or the Chinese community or the Polish, they all have their own media outlets. So we gave it a go. We started simple with just a Facebook page and the response was amazing and it grew to a point. Last year we did a podcast to interview successful Arabs, and we got a big sponsorship from Lipton. So, you know, we look the past few years, it grew tremendously.

John Shufeldt: That's very cool. Why do you think there was no Arab outlet for North American cities or news?

Awran Jebran: Yeah, to be honest, that's a very good question. All the media outlets, they talk about the community itself, they don't talk about the city enlarge. And one factor we think that they all come, they feel they're still immigrants, they're still foreigners. So there was no bridges between that community, which they usually live in the suburbs and the downtown, and like the urban areas, right. and all the Facebook stuff, they talk about the community itself finding a job or somebody who died or somebody who got married, or these kinds of social stuff. But something nice about the city. I mean, as you know, Chicago is beautiful. It has a lot of activities that a lot of stuff to do. And now, after talking about, like all these music festivals, you know, the air and water show all these kind of like, you know, the theaters in Chicago, so we noticed a lot of amazing response. People like, oh my god, I did not know that Chicago has that. So that was a great venture we did, and so far it's going great.

John Shufeldt: So do you think it's because we're probably a little bit off subject, but I'm really interested in this. I think it's because it immigrants to the U.S. feel like they have to remain kind of insular to stay in their protective dome. And I would think for Arabs, that would be even more so like, I don't want to venture out because, you know.

Awran Jebran: Yeah.

John Shufeldt: You haven't been treated all that well here.

Awran Jebran: I mean, unfortunately, the past two decades, you know, the war on Iraq, like, you know, all these kind of stigma on the Arab world, probably that's one of the reasons. But you know, cities like Chicago is so diverse. You know, if you go out there and explore like people are so friendly, the city is so welcoming. After a while, you notice, like, hey, it's really OK to kind of go and explore.

John Shufeldt: That's excellent. Well, I'm glad .... being born and raised in Chicago, I'm glad that they have that perspective. All right. Switching subjects. So you found that a project called Health Care Hero Project, what's that about?

Awran Jebran: So basically, as we touched on, my third year was really overwhelming was really the start of the pandemic, right? And we were really I mean, it's something new to me. You know, in my lifetime, I've never seen anything like it and we were really scared, really confused what to do, there was no clear guidelines at the beginning in early 2020, and I've been noticing my fellow residents, other nurses talking about their stories, right? Sharing their stories on social media. So, you know, we decided like, hey, we need to share these stories. So you know me and my girlfriend, she, her name is Sara, and she's really into entrepreneurship and tech and stuff like that. So and her sister is also a nurse in Canada. So we decided like, hey, we need to shed the light on these stories. It's really important to people know how are the health care individuals and physicians and nurses are going through their day and what are the challenges they're facing. Looking back at it right now, you know, hopefully we're past the pandemic, but at that time it was really intense. So, you know, there's a platform called Humans of New York. So we wanted to do something similar. So we started sharing these kind of stories to people we know around us, and the response was overwhelming. We started getting all these stories from all over the U.S., from Canada and even from Italy, from international countries sharing their stories. And we started sharing their stories on our platform and we collected over 100 stories and it was really insightful. Some interesting stories about pregnant nurse going through the pandemic and getting the support of her friends, some of them who had COVID and went through the recovery phase and they had all the support by their families. So you see all these heartwarming stories that made us go through the pandemic, and we're lucky now. It's, I mean, I hope it's almost over.

John Shufeldt: Yeah. Well, from where I sit working on indigenous lands, it's far from over. But yeah, hope springs eternal. So with these stories, I mean, do you think people read them and we're like, OK, if they can do it, I can do it. Were they inspirational stories?

Awran Jebran: Really inspirational! We had a lot of reaction from so many health care people and non-health care people. They were like, Oh my God, now I know how tough was the life of physicians and nurses through the pandemic, for example. But we got so many feedback from other industries like how can we help with? So we started connecting them with other health care centers to, for example, send some donations, send some, you know, PPE, stuff like that. So it was a big community kind of trying to live through the pandemic and kind of push to move on.

John Shufeldt: Did you get any of the anti-believers, the, oh this is a hoax, what are you writing about? Did you have those comments as well?

Awran Jebran: Ironically, that was on the latter end of 2020. At the beginning, everybody was like, Oh my God, these are so inspirational. Like 99.9 percent of the comments at the beginning was really positive. And then over time, when we started sharing stories like, for example, you know, November, December, we started getting all these comments like, come on, do you still believe in this? Blah blah blah. I was like, OK, what happened? Like, You know, but you know, to me, I'm very like, I have empathy for everyone who feels anything because it's been a very stressful situation. A lot of people, they cope with stress, with like differently. So some people, they just go by denying everything. Some people, they cope by going through the extra mile and kind of spread awareness. So I feel empathetic for everybody who ever comments and because we're all human beings and we have our vulnerability.

John Shufeldt: You know, that's actually a really good perspective. So I'm glad you share that because, you know, I'm seeing people in the Emergency Department now who are sick and dying and young and I say no, without knowing the answer, did you get the vaccine? And then look at me, well, no. Like, that's kind of why you're here right now. So what you just said is good perspective. I was kind of laughing too, and you were talking about perspective because, you know this last political climate back in November was, for me, abhorrent. I mean, just watching this after living as long as I've lived watching as a guy, we have really as a country degraded into this from what you've lived through taking tasks with bombs going off three hundred meters away, this is like a walk in the park.

Awran Jebran: Yeah, I mean, it was just like, you know, just another thing. No, no, no. But it was really challenging times, like especially being a physician and being like a training resident, right? You don't know the guidelines, you don't know. You know, your instinct as a resident and you know that you jump to help, right, and we had shortage of PPE, so it was very difficult for me. My attending is telling me, no, stay aside, we don't have enough PPE. You need to protect yourself first before go and start doing a CPR on a patient. You know, that was really like every time I talk about it, I get goosebumps, you know, like the shortage in ventilators. We got actually, Weiss was one of the first hospital who got the GM ventilators who built it, especially for, to support us. So you know what's very challenging time and gave us a really different perspective on, you know, we need to be thankful that we're healthy.

John Shufeldt: Yeah. And I guess, well, you know, what's, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I guess, from a third-year resident going through this and now it's like whatever you got, bring it on. So speaking, whatever you got, what are the project that you're involved in right now? Because I know you're in a bunch of them.

Awran Jebran: Yeah. So currently I'm a clinical informatics fellow at UIC. I started the fellowship early in July. You know, we're really in the health care I.T. landscape in Chicago. It's really evolving. You know, there's AT71, there's Matter, which is like an incubator for health care startups, we have close partnerships with them, working on a bunch of projects at UIC, you know, improving the workflow in the outpatient clinic. We have a bunch of projects to implement and make telehealth more robust, to kind of improve the also the hospital at home program, which is, you know, they finish their treatment in the hospital and kind of we continue the follow-up at home. So we're working on a bunch of projects with UIC and as you know, the health care I.T. and adding the layer of AI and machine learning on top of that, it's really exciting. And for me, doing this, the fellowship, I believe, would give me a lot of insights and a lot of ideas to the future because I believe that's the future of healthcare.

John Shufeldt: Totally, I look back, there was a time when you could grandfather into it, and I started getting on the path of grandfathering into it.

Awran Jebran: Exactly.

John Shufeldt: Because I love health informatics, so I've never coded a thing in my life other than a patient. But I love the idea of health informatics. A lot of businesses I've worked on have been informatics-based. My only child is like, oh, so I wanted them to find somebody that can do it for me. So I'm going to call you from now on, is a two-year fellowship?

Awran Jebran: Yeah. So it's a two-year fellowship. UIC actually was one of the oldest informatics program in the whole country after Stanford, so I'm really excited for, you know, the possibilities there.

John Shufeldt: Wow, that's actually very cool. So how much, is there any direct patient care with what you're doing? Are you right now strictly clinical?

Awran Jebran: We do around 20 to 30 percent clinical care because, my training is internal medicine I do inpatient service. So we do around 10 to 12 weeks a year of internal medicine service. So I work with residents and students, you know, for patient care and do my informatics fellowship, plus we do courses from the Biomedical Informatics Master's degree at the University of Illinois.

John Shufeldt: That's excellent. You know, I've always had this theory that being a physician and being an entrepreneur, the skill set's very similar. What do you think of that?

Awran Jebran: Well, I mean, to me, that's 100 percent. I mean, I think to me, it's the second nature to, you know, being an entrepreneur trying to solve a problem, try to do something from scratch that was really helpful in terms of going through residency, kind of figure out stuff, because going through that, if someone's going to starting a business, right, I mean, you, you go through the idea phase, you try to make something out of nothing, you try to figure out all these obstacles and all these challenges you face and then residency, you graduate, your startup. It's whether you exit, you get acquired or you go public. So it's similar analogy to me, similar concepts that would all show how resilient you are, how driven you are. And at the end, if you do something that you love, you will continue doing it and you will go over and over again to be able to succeed.

John Shufeldt: Yeah, that's probably a good summation of it. So what do you tell people who want to follow a similar path as you, now not about getting bombed while you're taking a test, but other than that, what do you tell people if they want, if they want a similar path? Because I can see for a lot of physicians right now, little I just met with one, two hours ago who wants to be you. They want to follow your path. What advice do you have for them?

Awran Jebran: To me, be now wit the internet is there, you have unlimited access to data and information, and information is basically free, so you don't have any excuse not to go there and learn as much as you can. If you're interested in entrepreneurial stuff, go look them up, keep reading about it, show your interest. There's a lot of opportunity, especially now stuff are becoming more and more hybrid or virtual. So so there's a lot of opportunity to kind of participate in stuff, be really active on LinkedIn and Twitter because there's a lot of opportunities there, like you connect with people you never know, like carry the conversation if you want to do informatics or if you want to be more involved in the health IT world, there's a lot of opportunity that you can follow people, you can offer to help out in anything, learn from them. I mean, in addition to going to the traditional path, which is, you know, going through your residency, you apply for fellowship, but to get into fellowship because it's limited seats, I mean, now the informatics fellowship, it's around 60 seats nationwide and the demand is increasing every year. So if you're interested in this, you get to stand out, you get a, like for example, if you're in Chicago, you have Matter, you can volunteer there. You can help out in any shape or form, like online, just talk about it and interact with other posts about it that will give you more idea and more open up the potential doors to opportunities. So, yeah.

John Shufeldt: Yeah. Final question for you. And it's going to be a softball for you because I'm ... for you, I'm almost laughing, asking this question, about resiliency. And so we're born resilient, did resilience, did you find resilience while being bombed, taking tests? I mean, where does that come from for you?

Awran Jebran: To me, it's resilient, it's a mix of being hungry. So I always tell them, like coming from Syria to the United States, as if someone was starving for years, and then you come to a big buffet and you can eat whatever you want. That hunger will keep you going versus getting things for granted, like, OK, I can do this, I can do that, that inner motivation and inner hunger. I think it's key of passing through tough times and having to pass like all the difficulties you have in life. So being hungry, being motivated every single time and have a goal in life that I want to achieve that no matter what.

John Shufeldt: Very good, I like it. Ok, so Anwar, where can people find out more about you.

Awran Jebran: I'm really active on LinkedIn. Anwar Jebran on LinkedIn. I also, on Twitter, you know, always engaging with a lot of folks on Twitter. So LinkedIn or Twitter, you know, there I always collaborate and interact with people. So I'm more than happy to reach out to anybody or discuss anything with anybody.

John Shufeldt: Excellent. Thank you. Anwar, this has really been a joy and a pleasure. You can find the show notes in the link to the podcast. Thank you so much for being on it. Good luck in your informatics. I expect great things out of you.

Awran Jebran: Yeah, appreciate it. Thank you so much, John, for the interview. Thank you.

John Shufeldt: Thanks for listening to another great edition of Entrepreneur Rx. To find out how to start a business and help secure your future, go to JohnShufeldtMD.com. Thanks for listening.

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Key Take-Aways:

  • May immigrant communities don’t have news outlets in their native language.
  • Being an entrepreneur can be second nature to many physicians. 
  • The Internet provides unlimited access to information an entrepreneur can use. 
  • Having an internal motivation and hunger for learning is necessary for entrepreneurs.